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Riders admire beauty of Paso Fino horses at open house
Trainer says horses are known for intelligence, distinct personalities
Katie Lynam stands Saturday with Barbarosa during instructional time as part of the Georgia Paso Fino Horse Association’s open house. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

It's no coincidence that Paso Fino horses are known for their "fine step" - it's the translation of their name.

"They're beautiful to watch and a dream to ride, the Rolls Royce of gaited horses," Paso Fino horse owner Suzy Varner of Kathleen said.

At the Georgia Paso Fino Horse Association's open house Saturday, Paso Fino owners and other interested folks got together to do share their love of what Varner describes as the most "elegantly-moving" breed of horses.

The open house kicks off the GPFHA's riding season each year. Both seasoned and unexperienced riders can try out the Paso Finos, and there's a fun show that features games. A clinic allows owners to work on specific issues with their horses.

Half a dozen Paso Finos and their owners stayed out of the rain as trainer Cary Hardiman lead the clinic under Arena D at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in Gainesville.

Katie Lynam observed as Hardiman demonstrated with her horse Lara, an 11-year-old brown Paso Fino. Lynam rode quarter horses until a vacation to Puerto Rico brought her in contact with the breed.

"I came back, sold my quarter horse and bought a Paso," she said.

World War II servicemen introduced the breed when they brought them back from Puerto Rico 60 years ago. This makes them fairly new to America, but the breed has existed a long time.

The horses' origins can be traced back to Spanish conquistadors who introduced them to the New World.

"They are gentle at hand, but spirited at saddle," GPFHA President Gwyn Wright said.

If you know something about horses, the Paso Finos are described as a mix of the Spanish Barb, the Spanish Jennet, with the "regal look" of the Andalusian, Wright said.

They average 14.2 hands, or about 4 feet, 9 inches tall, and are usually given Spanish names.

Cindy Griffeth, Varner's horse trainer, has worked with Paso Finos for 29 years. She said the horses are known for their intelligence and distinct personalities.

"They have ‘brio,' which means spirit, and a willingness to please," she said.

Hardiman's clinic focused on general horse training, with a lot of groundwork.

"You're going to ask the same thing (of the horse) on the ground as you would if you were riding," Wright said, watching Hardiman work with Lara.

Groundwork begins with "sacking out," and the horse learns to trust the trainer and not become alarmed by sights, sounds or touch of a person. After this, the horse learns to follow the trainer's directions.

Hardiman had Lara trot clockwise or counterclockwise around him as he held on with a lead rope.

Lynam said that Lara needed work on "collecting." When collected, the horses head is pulled down and its rear is tucked under.

"It makes them gait better if they're collected," she said.

A horse's "gait" is its manner of movement. The Paso Fino's smoothness makes it an ideal riding horse, whether it's used for recreational or show purposes. The GPFHA supports both.

"We try to cater to a variety of people, from trail riders to performers," Wright said.

The "Four Beat Jubilee," GPFHA's big show in May, will allow owners and their horses to compete for points to go on to national competition. The show, like the open house, will be at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center under the big arena.